Saving Grace may have had one of the gutsiest season finales since the Sopranos cut to black. We learned a lot, and it wrung every ounce of emotion out of the characters and situations, but we still don’t know where Grace’s journey actually ends up. It was maddening and it was breathtaking, and I can’t believe we have to wait until summer for more.
I’m too shell shocked to think of a snarky spoiler warning.
The plot of the episode was almost secondary — a crime Grace is investigating may have ties to her sister Paige; the Hanadarko siblings descend on Oklahoma City to celebrate their mother’s birthday; Rhetta works to figure out Earl’s clues. None of those plot points can even begin to sum up the emotional heft of the hour. The acting and writing was so strong that it knocked me out, and will haunt me for days.
Take, for example, the sibling arrival. Two of Grace’s sibling just don’t approve of her at all — Johnny, the priest, and Paige, the proper lady. They disparage her all the time — why is she such a slut, a drunk, an embarrassment? The rest of her rough-and-tumble brothers think Grace is a hoot. So who has Grace spent most of her life protecting? Johnny and Paige, or course — the very people who seem to think the least of her.
As we’ve suspected, Grace was molested by a priest, starting when she was nine years old. Earl’s clues all point to Father Patrick Murphy, who ingratiated himself with the Hanadarko family and used his position to prey on Grace. When she hit puberty, he lost interest in her — and started showing interest in Paige. Grace went to him, told him she missed him, and then nearly bit his tongue off when he kissed her. Stay away from Paige, she told him, or I’ll tell everyone what you did. Two week later, he was moved to Vermont, and within the year, he was dead of tongue cancer.
Except he wasn’t. He was moved from parish to parish for the rest of his life, and now lives in the Holy Redeemer retirement home in Tulsa. Rhetta finds this out from Johnny — who has no idea what happened to Grace. He just thinks she’s some sort of willful embarrassment. And when he figures it out, when he realizes what happened to her and what this means, that she’s kept the secret to protect him and his faith all these years — you can see his face crimple in on itself. It’s a great performance. (It’s also nice to see that Johnny does have a bit of Hanadarko in him — his first reaction upon learning the news is to drive to Tulsa and punch Murphy’s lights out. Damn straight.)
But that’s nothing compared to the awesome, heartbreaking scene between Rhetta and Grace when Rhetta tells Grace that Murphy is alive. She drives Grace to the middle of nowhere — and Oklahoma has a hell of a lot nowhere to drive to the middle of — and breaks the news, first making sure Grace is several paces away. Grace turns calm, icy — ok, we’ll go see him. No, says Rhetta — we’re not going anywhere until you start to process this. She watches, silent and heartbroken and understanding all at once, as Grace tears the car apart looking for the keys, finally breaking down and letting in the magnitude of her pain. Oof. It was amazing work by both Holly Hunter and Laura San Giacomo. That’s going to stay with me for days.
Also amazing — Grace’s scene where she finally loses it and screams at God — who is possibly being represented by the mutant long-tongued dog. Why should I trust you? She yells. I thought that Murphy dying of tongue cancer after I bit him was the one concrete act of holy justice I’d ever seen, and you took that away from me? He’s living in a beautiful house, gardening and enjoying his life? You gave him roses? How could you!
But the biggest surprise comes at the end — Grace breaks into Murphy’s place and puts a gun to his head. Murphy begs her not to shoot him — not because he wants to live, but because he wants to preserve her immortal soul, he says. "I pray for you every day," he says. And then he repeats something Earl said to her earlier in the episode: "I’m just FedEx trying to deliver a message."
Grace is stunned: "Do you know an angel named Earl?" she asks, the gun still pointed at his head. And there, the episode ends.
Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends:
- Grace’s brothers sweep into the police station and call her bug face. She used to eat insects, they tell the gathered throngs. How many bug jokes am I going to have to endure? Grace wonders.
- We find out almost immediately — Ham hands her a cricket, saying "I saved this for you." Never one to shy away from, well, anything, Grace immediately pops it in her mouth. She will not be defeated in a practical joke war.
- Paige also proved her Hanadarko side — when she found out her husband was having an affair, she started spying on the mistress in the woman’s own bookstore. She’s not one to back down, either.
- I loved Clay collecting money from his uncles when they bet she’d flee her mother’s party and never return. At least he has faith in her.
- The group picture of the whole Handarko clan was lovely — especially since it included Mary Francis in a picture Grace held. Nicely done.
So many questions — is Earl trying to help Grace, or Murphy, or both? Will Grace shoot Murphy? Should she? For that matter, will she shoot at Earl next time she sees him? Why was Earl crying as she put the pieces together — because he knew what she would go through, because he knew he’d lose her when she found Murphy again, or some other reason? What’s the deal with Goddog’s ridiculously long tongue? Will Grace ever respond to Ham saying he loved her? And just how long are we going to have to wait to see if Grace pulled the trigger?
Finally, what did you think of the end of the show — did you love all the unanswered questions, or did it frustrate the hell out of you?